Books of 2014 - discussed by Influx Writers

 

We asked ourselves and our authors to tell us what they've been reading this year (not necessarily released in 2014). This post would be ludicrously long if we included pictures of the book sleeves, so you'll just have to imagine them there!

Also, the length of recommendation varies wildly.

Gareth E Rees (author of Marshland: dreams and nightmares on the edge of London)

Light by M. John Harrison
-head-mangling quantum space travel epic.

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer by Philip K. Dick
- in which a bishop questions the origin of Christ

One Three One by Julian Cope
- a narcotic Neolithic time-slip romp.

The Village that Died for England by Patrick Wright
- a multi-angled history of the lost Dorset village of Tyneham, swallowed up by the MOD’s tank range.

Springfield Road by Salena Godden
- a moving evocation of 1970s childhood

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
- a series of shifting poetic perspectives on loss and landscape.

On Walking by Phil Smith - a mythogeographic journey in Sebald’s footsteps.

In the Dark Room by James Knight
- an abstract and nightmarish short story combined with artwork

Hard Shoulder  by Baron Mordant and Zeke Clough
- a highly surreal comic strip road-trip.

 

Sam Berkson (author of Life in Transit)

Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest

Regardless of the hype, Kate is a good poet. She is also remarkably prolific, having put out two music albums, three theatre plays, two poetry collections and is working on a novel. She turns 30 next year. Hold Your Own is a Picador publication and starting with an 25 page retelling of the Tiresias story which becomes the coda for the collection, Kate reflects on her life changes from tom-boy to teenage woman to gay adult (using the sex-shifting blind prophet as its archetype) to successful truth-teller, exploring issues of gender and sexuality. Its edited by big cheese page poet Don Paterson and his influence is evident. It's more like proper poetry. She even uses line breaks this time. Some of that's good. At times maybe we lose a little of her distinctiveness but then again some of her 'this is how the world is', rhyming streams of consciousness stuff doesn't work as well on the page as it does in highly emotive live performance. "You've only yourself to blame when someone half as talented as you ends up achieving twice as much" is one piece of didactism which doesn't sit too comfortably with me. The gatekeepers have certainly welcomed her but then again she is five times as good as most of the Kate Tempest lookalikes pulling their tee-shirts and screaming out bad platitudes meant to be grand truths at poetry nights all across the country.

Springfield Road by Salena Godden

Long awaited childhood memoir, the result of many years of struggle - both internally and with fickle publishers. It is a brilliant book. She recreates the 70s and 80s of her East Midlands childhood, growing up with a single Jamaican mum as a mixed race girl in a white area., the family trying to come to terms with the disappearance of her dad. Issues are there but it's not an 'issue book', there are some achingly sad moments but it's not a 'misery memoir'. Its brilliance comes from the way she gets into the world of children and to recreate in detail what it is to be a child, her ability to empathise so perfectly with children in contrast with those adults in her life who (like her stepdad) clearly cannot. Memory, you realise, is an act of imagination. We recreate a plausible fiction from what we know of the characters and events, the test of its truth not being a measure against some absolute reality but the consistency and plausibility of what we describe. Her cuts between scenes keep the book moving, the decade she describes and the experiences of her childhood a common experience but one much under-represented in literature. Get it!

 

Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures by Mark Fisher

Capitalist Realism was to my mind, the best political book written by a British person so far this decade. It was one of those that said all the things you had been thinking but hadn't managed to find the words for. Ghosts of My Life is a different kind of book. It's a collection of his blogposts and essays, a lot of it about music and TV that I don't know. Although he is very good at music journalism, I always find that stuff hard-going: reading descriptions of the sounds of tracks I don't really know. I leant it to my muso mate and he loved it. However, the central idea is an interesting one: he is not nostalgic for the 70s and 80s, he is nostalgic for the imagined futures that people were seriously hoping for in the 70s and 80s - the dream of a better world that got lost as the world didn't really get any better and popular culture got less and less interesting.

 

Kit Caless, Influx Editor

Meatspace by Nikesh Shukla.

A very funny novel about social media, writing and family. Now famous for sending a Tayyabs lambchop into space.

 

The Way Inn - Will Wiles.

A wry, insightful and surreal look at the world of mid-budget hotel chains. I've not looked at a hotel the same way since reading it.

 

Sapiens: A brief history of mankind - Yuval Noah Harari.

A page turning anthropology book. Who'd have thought it?

 

Darkmans - Nicola Barker.

I know it came out in 2007 but I read it this year. An astonishing book. A crackling energy charges page and its brilliant characters.

 

Eat Your Heart Out by Zoe Pilger

I recommended this for Summer Reads. And it's definitely one of my favourite books of this year. Very, very funny.

 

PUSH Anthology

Collection of the best stories and poetry from PUSH magazine. Writing that's as raw and upfront as possible. Featuring Adelle Stripe, Ford Dagenham, Melissa Mann, Michael Keenaghan and an introduction from John King

 

Linda Mannheim (author of Above Sugar Hill)

Go Well, Stay Well, by Hannah StantonOne of my favourite books in 2014 was published over 50 years ago. Picked up in a second hand bookstore some time back, this memoir about South Africa during the 1960 State of Emergency  revealed things about that time and place that I have not seen anywhere else, and believe me – I’ve gone swimming in an archive of writing about the period.  Stanton writes from the perspective of an insider/outsider  -- passionately and without illusion, and never taking herself too seriously.

 

Handbook for an Unpredictable Life by Rosie Perez was a revelation. Yes, that Rosie Perez – star of thegame changing Do the Right Thing and early ‘90s Hip Hop choreographer. I kept waiting for the usual disingenuousness that laces through celebrity memoirs to appear, but in this book, there was none. Perez’s voice is as distinctive on the page as it is in the cinema, and here she writes about her childhood in a Catholic children’s home and unexpected success in Hollywood with brutal honesty and buoyant humour.

 

Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem

Despite having grown up in the United States, I don’t often recognise the territory described in novels that are supposed to be about America, but I know the place that Jonathan Lethem is writing about in Dissident Gardens. It’s my home turf.  Lethem’s story about three generations of New York Communists was so familiar to me that I was almost spooked. And, unlike many of those books that are supposed to be about America, there is no author’s ego hovering in each scene. There’s instead a chaotic, playful, and magical narrative and revisiting the streets that I knew through it shook me up, left me moved.

 

Gary Budden, Influx Editor

The Dig by Cynan Jones

This was my knockout novel of 2014. Short, to the point, like a kind of condensed fusion of the best work of Niall Griffiths and those tight-lipped masculine American writers (yes, such as Cormac McCarthy). Rural fiction with not a drop of sentimentality, addressing head on the grisly issue of badger baiting in west Wales. I liked this so much I immediately went and read and Cynan Jones’ other three novels. Highly recommended.

 

The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

First novel from activist Paul Kingsnorth, The Wake is a timely reminder of the bloody roots of the current system of land ownership in Britain, charting the fates of a bunch of ‘grene men’ Anglo-Saxon guerrillas fighting the Normans post-1066. Written in an Old English ‘shadow tongue’ this really is something special.

 

Beastings by Ben Myers

Another novel that takes tropes and possibly also its style from those aforementioned US writers, but transforming into something utterly British, timeless and also quite unpleasant. At times I had images of Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter wandering through the Lake District. Another brilliant addition to a growing canon of what I’d call ‘anti-pastoral’ writing. I then went and read Myers’ 2012 novel, Pig Iron, which was also really quite good.(Also Ben Myers turned me on to the joys of English landscape death-metal and we must commend him for that at the very least.)

 

Vulgar Things by Lee Rourke

A Guardian review said this novel was repetitive, claustrophobic, and ‘too aimless to inspire’. That, of course, was the point. Dr. Feelgood, Southend, Canvey Island, quite a lot of alcohol and a disturbing look at the male gaze, Vulgar Things brilliantly captures the strange atmosphere of the Thames estuary. A breath of fresh air, and inspirational in terms of what you can do with a modern British novel.

 

Gorse Journal

I really recommend, if you don’t know about it already, Gorse Journal from Dublin. Edited by Susan Tomaselli, the essays alone in the current issue (#2) are worth the price of entry. Favourites were pieces by Claire-Louise Bennett, Simon Reynolds (‘This Was Tomorrow’ is a very powerful piece looking hard at our current obsession with the past, and how our dreams of a future have died), and best of all, Brian Dillon (mainly because he was discussing Canterbury and Powell & Pressburger). In addition to this, it’s a real thing of beauty on your bookshelf that makes you look clever. Check them out: www.gorse.ie

 

Feral by George Monbiot

I read an article criticising Monbiot’s talk of invasive and ‘non-native’ species upsetting ecosystems in Britain, somehow comparing basic science with views akin to supporting the EDL and hating immigrants. Animals, of course, are not people, and thinking Japanese knotweed is a problem is not the same as voting for UKIP.This book is a passionate and eloquent call for the process of ‘rewilding’ to begin; not an attempt go back to some mythical pristine wilderness, but to give nature a bit of a nudge up and then let it get on with things. To put a little bit more diversity and enchantment back in the world before it’s all too late. The first book to give me any sense of hope for the future in a long time.

 

Stories from The Weird

The backbreaking anthology, The Weird (edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer), is something I have the feeling I’ll be dipping into for the rest of my life. At over 750,000 words, I doubt I’ll ever ‘finish’ it.Inside is an entire novella by the Finnish writer Leena Krohn. That novella is called Tainaron: Mail From Another City and is, in all senses of the word, fantastic. Conjuring up echoes of writers such as Calvino, Borges and Bruno Schulz, the novella is presented as a series of letters from the narrator to an unknown recipient, charting her times spent in the titular city, a place that shifts geographically and appears to be inhabited by giant sentient insects with fluid identities. Essential stuff.

 

Another stand out short-story was A Redress for Andromeda  by Caitlin R. Kiernan, horrifying, mind-bending and guaranteed to give you nightmares about marine biology and anything will gills or a carapace.Apiece of weird fiction about bird-watching is in many ways a dream come true for me, so discovering The Hide by Liz Williams was a real joy. An unclassifiable and eerie story, reminiscent at times of some of M John Harrison’s short fiction, it mixes the banality of British bird-watching with intimations of some ancient pre-Christian force in the landscape expertly, and like all the best weird fiction, doesn’t really explain what happened.

 

Finally, reading Kathe Koja’s Angels in Love made me feel quite ill and upset, therefore was a resounding success, so I went and bought her collection Extremities, and you should too.